California GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. has portrayed
himself as a savvy businessman who can deal successfully with the
state's financial woes. But Simon's ties to Enron, the bankrupt energy
company that has been charged with manipulating the electricity market
in California and is under federal investigation, raise questions about
his business acumen and his fitness for the state's top post.
Former business associates of Simon say that he personally persuaded
Enron to invest in Hanover Compressor, a Houston company he founded in
1990 and on whose board he sat between 1992 and 1998. Hanover makes
pumps that move natural gas and oil through pipelines and from wells.
According to several people at Enron and Hanover involved in the
transaction, the Enron investment was made in 1995 through an Enron
partnership called Joint Energy Development Investments, or JEDI, which
is now at the center of the federal investigation into Enron's collapse.
Simon held a 1.4 percent stake in Hanover, which after the JEDI
investment was worth tens of millions of dollars. His father, William
Simon, the former energy czar and Treasury Secretary under Richard
Nixon, ran a private investment firm, William E. Simon & Sons,
which owns more than 4 percent of Hanover. The younger Simon declined
requests for an interview. He has previously dodged questions about his
relationship with Enron.
JEDI was at one time Hanover's second-largest shareholder, with an $84
million stake in the company, according to a Securities and Exchange
Commission filing. Last June, JEDI shifted most of its shares to another
off-balance-sheet Enron partnership. JEDI's stake in Hanover allowed the
Enron executives who managed JEDI to attend Hanover board meetings.
Hanover executives said Simon and Enron came up with several
Simon was also involved in Hanover in matters separate from the Enron
deals that could raise legal concerns. Hanover said in February that it
would have to restate its financial results beginning in January 2000
because of improper accounting for a partnership that--as with
Enron--made the company appear more profitable than it was. Over several
years during this time, according to the Wall Street Journal,
Hanover officers sold millions of shares of stock--again much like
Enron, where officers who were allegedly aware of the company's
accounting practices were encouraging employees and others to buy shares
even as they were selling their own. Hanover is now the target of at
least four class-action lawsuits by shareholders who have alleged the
company misled investors; and it is also under investigation by the SEC.
Simon wasn't a member of Hanover's board at the time of the improper
accounting, but a week before Hanover made the announcement, the company
reported that every annual report it has issued since going public in
1997 contained errors. Simon, as a member of Hanover's audit committee,
was responsible for approving the company's annual reports. The audit
committee, according to Hanover's investor relations department, was
held responsible by Hanover for the error.
Simon helped Hanover set up a partnership in the Cayman Islands, Hanover
Cayman Limited, as a tax shelter. In addition, he assisted Hanover in
setting up a joint venture with Enron and JEDI to construct a
natural-gas compression project in Venezuela.
Jamie Fisfis, Simon's campaign spokesman, said Simon has been
forthcoming about his business dealings with Hanover and Enron. But when
asked about JEDI's investment in Hanover and what role Simon played,
Fisfis said he did not know and would only confirm that Simon was a
member of the Hanover board at the time. Moreover, he could not offer an
explanation when asked about the other joint ventures with Enron that
Simon's former business associates said he had a hand in creating. Simon
has told reporters on the campaign trail that he was barely involved in
Hanover's business activities, but Hanover executives say Simon was
intimately involved during his six years on the board. When Simon left
the board in 1998, he sold most of his 430,000 shares in the company.
However, he still has more than $1 million invested in Hanover,
according to the Associated Press.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar of the University of Southern
California's School of Policy, Planning and Development, said Simon has
to start answering questions about his dealings with Enron, "whether it
be good or bad," or risk alienating voters. "The symbol that Enron has
become is negative, cheating and ruthless."
Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Governor Gray Davis, who currently trails
Simon according to the latest polls, said Simon's close ties with Enron
pose questions about his track record: "For a man who touts himself as a
business manager, these types of activities raise questions whether
There aren't many Democratic Congressional candidates who can claim that they personally thwarted the agenda of organized labor in the most critical legislative battles of the past decade, but former Clinton White House aide Rahm Emanuel can--and does. Northwestern University, where Emanuel has served as an adjunct professor of communications studies, identifies him as the man who "coordinated the passage of NAFTA." In addition to getting the North American Free Trade Agreement "ball across the goal line," as Emanuel likes to put it, Clinton's former senior adviser for policy and strategy was also a point man for the Administration in fights with unions over granting China most-favored-nation trading status and over fast-track negotiation of a hemispheric free-trade-area agreement that union leaders call "NAFTA on steroids."
That résumé might not sound like one that would be a magnet for labor support. Yet, as the millionaire investment banker seeks the Democratic nomination for an open Congressional seat representing blue-collar Chicago neighborhoods hard hit by the loss of industrial jobs, Emanuel is running with the endorsement of the Illinois AFL-CIO. Weirder still is the fact that Emanuel's opponent in the close struggle to win the March 19 primary, former State Representative Nancy Kaszak, is a lifelong backer of union causes who speaks with passion about the devastation wreaked on Illinois by more than 37,000 lost jobs directly linked to the passage of NAFTA.
What gives? The national AFL-CIO defers to state federations on local endorsements. And Illinois AFL-CIO spokesman Bill Looby offers a realpolitik explanation of his federation's stance in the Kaszak-Emanuel race: "She had the good labor record, but he had the record of knowing his way around Washington. The feeling was, he could be more effective in Washington." Illinois politicos argue, however, that the federation's endorsement resulted more from the machinations of the Daley political machine, for which Emanuel has been a fundraiser, strategist and well-connected ally.
Emanuel is just one of a number of Democrats who, despite playing premiere roles in pushing a trade agenda that AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has referred to as "an assault on American workers, their families and their communities," enjoy AFL-CIO support in tight primary contests with Democrats who oppose unrestricted free trade. As in the 2000 presidential race, when the national federation went all out for Al Gore--who had consistently opposed it on trade issues--several state and local federations this year have made endorsements that are causing a lot of head-scratching among union members who embrace the "fair trade, not free trade" line.
In Texas, for instance, Representative Ken Bentsen, a Houston Democrat who helped the Bush White House secure its one-vote victory in December for fast track, won a dual endorsement just weeks later for an open US Senate seat--even though the man he shares the endorsement with, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, clearly positioned himself on the opposite side of the issue. And divided labor loyalties in a freshly drawn Ohio Congressional district may well allow Representative Tom Sawyer, a frequent supporter of free-trade initiatives, to prevail over Ohio legislators with strong pro-labor records in a race to represent Youngstown and other steel-mill communities ravaged by the opening of US borders to cheap foreign steel.
When it's losing key Congressional battles over trade by a single vote, can labor really afford to send more Wall Street, not Main Street, Democrats to Congress? Paul Waterhouse, a top official with Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago, doesn't think so. "Unions begin to lose faith with their members when you tell them year after year after year that trade is the central issue and then at election time say never mind," says Waterhouse, whose 21,000-member local is backing Kaszak over Emanuel. Trade was a critical issue in convincing the Teamsters, the Machinists and a number of other blue-collar unions to break ranks with the state labor federation and endorse Kaszak. Indeed, to the extent that there is union "street heat" working the district, it appears mostly to be for Kaszak, who is described by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Neal as having a record as "a genuine populist and community activist" that contrasts with Emanuel's "dubious claim that he has spent his life fighting for working families."
Intriguingly, the group that has placed an estimated $400,000 in advertisements on Chicago television complaining about Emanuel's support of NAFTA is not the labor federation that led opposition to the trade deal. It is EMILY's List, the national donors' network that backs pro-choice women candidates. EMILY's List was looking for an issue that would allow it to clearly distinguish Kaszak's Chicago roots from Emanuel's Washington-insider status. The Teamsters' Waterhouse says the group was wise to focus on trade policy. "Trade is an important election issue for working people in places where jobs are disappearing," says Waterhouse, who argues that unions need to recognize the power of the issue, as well as the importance of remaining consistent on it. "It really is a matter of credibility. We need to be the ones standing strong on these issues. If we say that trade is a central issue and then back people at election time who are on exactly the wrong side of the issue, we might as well say to politicians, Go ahead, screw us again."
Tuesday, March 5, midnight
If I had been so bold as to have wagered that Al Gore would succeed in the latest Supreme Court round, I would have quickly called my bookie this morning after breakfasting in the Court's cafeteri
The US Supreme Court's stunning 5-4 stay Saturday of the Florida
undervote count--less than 24 hours after the equally stunning Florida
Supreme Court decision ordering that same count--illuminat
If Tom Feeney has his way, he'll get to decide the next President of the United States.
MUNICIPAL UPHEAVALS The highest-profile fight nationally has to be the race to succeed New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with labor-backed Democrat Mark Green and Republican Michael Bloomberg clashing over who will rebuild the city. Criticized for appealing to white fear to secure the Democratic nod, Green is struggling to shore up black and Latino support. Runoff foe Fernando Ferrer backs him, but Green is still mending fences with hospital union chief Dennis Rivera, a Ferrer backer whose street muscle could offset Bloomberg's bankroll.
In addition to New York, hundreds of cities from Atlanta to Seattle will elect mayors this fall. Many of them are turning to new faces. Veteran black mayors are stepping down in Detroit, Cleveland and Atlanta, inspiring spirited "next generation" contests. And Texas is witnessing a push by Latino candidates to win the mayoralties of Houston and other major cities, following the election this past spring in San Antonio of 32-year-old Democrat Ed Garza. In Cincinnati, where riots erupted in April following the shooting by a police officer of an unarmed African-American youth, former television news anchor Courtis Fuller, who is African-American, faces moderate Democratic Mayor Charlie Luken, who is white. Luken outspent Fuller by 11 to 1 in the nonpartisan primary. But Fuller's promise to make improved race relations a priority, along with a seven-point "covenant with voters"--which includes pledges to give the city's Citizens' Review Panel subpoena power to investigate police misconduct, to seek repeal of a 1993 charter amendment that prohibits specific legal protection for gays and lesbians, and to redirect the city's focus to better serve blighted neighborhoods--inspired a surge in African-American turnout. Fuller beat Luken by sixteen points in the primary that set up the November 6 runoff between the pair.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, who managed that city's response to the 1999 World Trade Organization protests, lost his job in a September primary. Schell was bested by City Attorney Mark Sidran and King County Council member Greg Nickels. In a liberal city that is still reeling in the aftermath of the WTO protests, an earthquake, various riots, the dot-com collapse and Boeing's exit, Sidran is running a law-and-order campaign that says the answer to a lot of what ails the city can be found in "civility laws" aimed at clearing the streets of panhandlers and the homeless. Nickels, siding with civil libertarians and antipoverty advocates, is betting that the historically liberal city will agree with his view that "we have a responsibility to do more than tell our homeless, 'You can't sit on the street or urinate on the sidewalk.'"
REJECTING ROBERTSON? Pat Robertson's favorite candidate this year is Virginia Republican gubernatorial contender Mark Earley, a fellow fundamentalist whose political rise has been shepherded by the Christian Coalition chief. Robertson has contributed $35,000 to Earley's campaign. Since September 11, however, Earley has been scrambling to explain his ties to Robertson, who concurred with fellow Virginian Jerry Falwell's view that the terrorists "give us probably what we deserve" because the country harbors abortion-rights supporters, gays and lesbians, civil libertarians and feminists. Earley has yet to part company with Robertson. Instead, he is relying on Republican National Committee money--more than $2 million so far--and a campaign that claims Democrat Mark Warner and his statewide running mates are the most extreme left-wing ticket in history. Warner, a high-tech millionaire and former US Senate candidate, doesn't live up to the billing. Though he is backed by labor and environmental groups, and supports abortion rights and protections for gays and lesbians, he also backs the death penalty, opposes new taxes and has made overtures to the National Rifle Association. Polls show Warner's well-financed campaign to be leading. If he prevails, Virginia will join one of the least-noticed trends in American politics: the return of Democratic control of governorships in the states of the Old Confederacy. A Warner win would add Virginia to a list that includes Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
LAY OFF LABOR Republicans have for years attacked Democrats for getting too close to organized labor, and that was precisely the tactic opted for by New Jersey Republican gubernatorial nominee Bret Schundler, whose privatization schemes as mayor of Jersey City earned cheers from the Wall Street Journal editorial page. In their first major debate after September 11, Schundler attacked Democratic foe Jim McGreevey as a slave of labor "special interests." Running in a state that adjoins New York City, and where many former World Trade Center workers reside, McGreevey said he was rather proud of his endorsement from the state's fire and police unions. In a response that could serve as a model for Democrats in 2002, McGreevey continued, "Mr. Schundler calls police and firefighters special interests. I call them special heroes. They are the guys who ran into the building. They've endorsed me. And they are not supporting Mr. Schundler." McGreevey, who almost beat former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1997, has had the lead from the start. Though he is hardly a progressive, McGreevey is pro-choice and pro-public education as well as pro-labor, in stark contrast to conservative poster-boy Schundler.
INITIATING CHANGE In a state where initiative referendums have frequently been used to slash taxes and public services, Washington labor, church and community groups are seeking to reclaim direct democracy on November 6. The Homecare Quality Initiative, backed by Service Employees International Union locals as well as elderly, disability rights and AIDS care groups, would create a nine-member authority to set standards for publicly funded in-home care services for elderly and disabled adults. Initiative 773, supported by Healthcare for Washington's Working Families, would raise taxes on cigarettes and wholesale tobacco products, with the money earmarked for healthcare for low-income families. Framing the vote as a choice between initiative backers such as the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association of Washington, the Washington Academy of Family Physicians and leading foes Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds, campaign spokesman Eric Jaffe says, "We know Washington voters trust the major organizations supporting I-773 when it comes to matters concerning health and kids, not Big Tobacco."
If they connect well with voters in 2002, they'll have an edge in a weak economy.
Two of the most
famous figures in the Democratic Party, Senators Joseph Lieberman and
Hillary Clinton, have introduced the Media Marketing Accountability
Act of 2001, which, among other things, would make it illegal to
market or promote adult-rated rap and rock-and-roll albums to kids
under 17 and would empower the Federal Trade Commission to decide
which R-rated films may be marketed to minors.
Senator Clinton said, "If you label something as inappropriate for
children and then go out and target it to children, you are engaging
in false and deceptive advertising." And this summer Democrats,
occasionally joined by some Republicans, have browbeaten
entertainment-industry leaders at Congressional hearings, accusing
them of evading the rating system and selling salacious material to
young people. But the R rating on films doesn't mean kids under 17
shouldn't see them; it means they shouldn't see them without an
adult. Many parents want their kids to see such R-rated films as
Billy Elliot and Erin Brockovich. As for records, the
"parental advisory" sticker informs the buyer that the record
contains profanity, but it does not have an age
Lieberman disingenuously says, "We're not
asking the FTC to regulate content in any way, or even to make
judgments about what products are appropriate for children." But
that's precisely what his radical bill does. It empowers the FTC to
"establish the criteria" for new ratings for records and films, and
would legally require record companies and film studios to create and
implement "an age-based rating or labeling system." Marketing would
be deemed to be targeting minors if "the Commission determines that
the advertising or marketing is otherwise directed or targeted to
minors." With the FTC defining marketing to minors on the basis of
FTC-mandated ratings criteria, backed by the crippling financial
penalties for "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," it would be
able to decide which music and movies could be mass-marketed and
thus, by and large, which ones would be released.
Lieberman and Clinton apparently believe that federal
bureaucrats are the ideal arbiters of the appropriateness of
entertainment for teenagers. Lieberman told Inside.com, "We
know the difference between Schindler's List and Saving
Private Ryan and some of the slasher flicks that are aimed at
teenage boys. That's a decision best left to the administrative
Two days before the legislation was introduced,
the FTC issued a surreal report that criticized record companies for
advertising stickered albums on the World Wrestling Federation TV
show SmackDown! because 36 percent of its audience is under
18. So according to the FTC it's OK for younger teens to watch guys
knocking the living daylights out of each other, but it's not OK to
sell rap music to those same kids! Not surprisingly, more than 70
percent of the albums the FTC monitored were by African-American
artists. (The FTC also included the rock band Rage Against the
Machine, whose lyrics are frequently political, on the list.) At the
Hip-Hop Summit in June, attended by African-American leaders
including Cornel West, Martin Luther King III, Louis Farrakhan and
several black members of Congress, even those who criticized the
content of certain albums agreed that this legislation is dangerous
While the FTC investigation was conducted in
response to the Columbine murders, Lieberman is a one-man slippery
slope who makes no bones about his desire to regulate nonviolent
dirty words, complaining that "the leading music companies...have
been doing little if anything to respond to the FTC report and curb
the marketing of obscenity-laced records to kids."
the Washington elite focuses its rhetoric on corporations, young
people view these outbursts as attacks on youth culture. Just as baby
boomers didn't view Bob Dylan and the Beatles as "products" of CBS
and EMI, today's young people view rap and rock music as their own
culture, which appears to be precisely what middle-aged pundits hate
about it. George Will, for example, castigated rap lyrics last
September on ABC's This Week. Six months later, Will lavished
praise on Sopranos executive producer David Chase for his
creation. Both Eminem's Slim Shady and Chase's Tony Soprano are
violent, bigoted characters whose humanity and contradictions are
nonetheless illuminated by their creators. The primary difference is
that rap is the cultural language of young people.
Obviously, people of good will disagree about culture, and
there is nothing wrong with fierce criticism of any genre. But
Lieberman et al. want to go far beyond criticism. They want
government to have veto power over the marketing, and thus the
economic viability, of entertainment.
By supporting this
legislation Democrats may pick up a few "swing voters" who like the
symbolism of entertainment-bashing, but in doing so they risk
alienating young voters, fans of pop culture of all ages and civil
libertarians. It is hard to imagine the young people who still turn
out in the thousands to hear Ralph Nader speak at campuses being
attracted by Lieberman's approach. Voter turnout among young people
is at an all-time low, around 28 percent; and according to Voter News
Service, while Clinton had a 12-percentage-point margin over Bush
among 18-29 year olds in 1992 and a 19-percentage-point margin in
1996, Gore-Lieberman won this demographic by a mere 2 percent in
2000. None of the published postelection analyses by Democrats have
focused on restoring turnout or Democratic margins among young
Condescending to, alienating and demeaning young
people is bad morally and bad politically. No progressive movement
has ever succeeded without young people. Continued culture-bashing by
Democrats opens the door for more erosion of their natural base to
culture-savvy libertarians like Jesse Ventura.
As the crowded podium at the conservative Democratic Leadership Council's summer conference in Indianapolis illustrated, plenty of Democrats are prepared to steer the party even further right than Al Gore did in 2000. Among Democrats who are thinking presidential, there are too many buyers for the DLC's line that Gore's "people-versus-the-powerful" rhetoric was too populist. But as David Corn argues on page 11, the great mass of Americans, Democrats or Disenchanteds, buy the notion that the opposition to Bush must not just talk the people-versus-the-powerful talk but also walk the progressive populist walk.
At a moment when George W. Bush is doing everything in his power to illustrate the inability of conservatives to manage the affairs of state, there is a dramatic opening for progressives. This is a rare circumstance--following a contested election, with a bizarrely divided government--and it calls for bold approaches.
The point is not to pick a particular candidate. The point is to recognize that progressives must have a candidate in 2004, if only to free us from the constraints of a choice so narrowly defined as the 2000 Democratic primary pickings of Gore and Bill Bradley. That's the point Senator Russ Feingold, whose environmental advocacy and consistent critique of corporate free-trade policies have earned him a reputation as the Senate's "greenest" member, will try to make in coming months as he explores the prospects of a progressive presidential bid. "I'm worried sick about what's going to happen with Supreme Court nominations, trade policy, the environment, if we get eight years of Bush," says the Wisconsin Democrat. "But I'm also worried about the prospect that we could have four years of Bush and then four years of a DLC Democrat." Feingold knows his maverick style--he backed Attorney General John Ashcroft's nomination, he says, to defend the principle that a President, particularly a future progressive President, has a right to his appointees--could make the selling job difficult. But he takes comfort from the fact that another maverick, his campaign-finance-reform mate John McCain, shook things up in 2000. And, he adds, "I want to live in a country with a progressive President. I may not be that President, but I want people to start thinking now--not in two years, when it's too late--about how we get a progressive President."
Feingold should explore his chances. The same goes for Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, a fierce critic of NAFTA and US military adventurism, who has been to Iowa and soon will visit New Hampshire. "I want to get people thinking about these issues in the context of presidential politics," says Kaptur. Reverend Al Sharpton says that "progressive leadership is in a deep crisis at the moment in the Democratic Party"; he has asked Harvard professor Cornel West to head a presidential exploratory committee.
Progressives need not pick a 2004 candidate yet. But progressives do need to recognize, as conservative Democrats have, that now is the time to begin giving shape and substance to the opposition to Bush. Presidential nominations are no longer decided by a few primaries every fourth year; they are decided years earlier, as candidates begin to establish themselves. Feingold, who backed Gore in 2000 but refused to join the Democratic bashing of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, makes a case for a quick start when he says, "On the merits, Nader was right in a lot of what he said. My difference with him is that I think we need to make the fight inside the Democratic Party. And we need to start doing it now, not in January 2004."